The Tottenham defender has revealed that Belgium had the prolific forward in the back of their minds from the start, while Toby Alderweireld felt the Europeans were unluckyEXCLUSIVE
By Stefan Coerts in Brasilia
Belgium defender Jan Vertonghen has admitted that the sheer presence of Lionel Messi for Argentina was enough for the European side to stay worried at all times during their 1-0 World Cup quarter-final loss at the Estadio Mane Garrincha on Saturday.
The Barcelona man was less influential than in previous games as he was not involved in an Argentina goal for the first time this tournament, but Belgium were well aware that they could not afford to allow Messi any space, even if Gonzalo Higuain eventually ended up being the one netting the winner.
"We all knew that Argentina are incredibly dangerous on the counterattack. So each time you enjoy possession, you are always thinking 'Let’s hope it doesn’t end up with Messi or Di Maria if we lose the ball'," Vertonghen told Goal.
"I don’t know whether we showed them too much respect, but we should have been more confident out there.
"We didn’t play at our own level today. We fell behind 1-0 early on, which should not have been a major problem, but we never really managed to dictate the game after that."
Toby Alderweireld, meanwhile, felt that Belgium were unlucky to crash out against the Argentines, although he too acknowledged that the presence of Messi had made life difficult for them.
"I think we went 1-0 behind in a very unfortunate way, although it was a fine finish from Higuain," he added. "The ball bounced a bit luckily for them.
"Things were really difficult for us from there on. We were unable to play our own game. We had to try something, so played a bit more opportunistically towards the end. We started playing long balls, hoping that it would help us create something, but it never really happened.
"I think we could have done more here had we had a bit more luck. We could have hurt them more had we made the right decisions. But they have so much quality, with someone like Messi, so you know they can always hit you from out of nowhere."